Every parent of a sick child wants to do whatever possible to make the child feel better. But most cold- and flu-like illnesses in children are caused by viruses, which will be cured by the child’s own immune system.
Many over-the-counter cold medications for children have been withdrawn for safety reasons. The Federal Drug Administration now warns against giving children younger than 4 years any over-the-counter medications, other than pain and fever relievers.
Here are my suggestions for symptomatic relief of your child’s cold- or flu-like illness:
Encourage the child to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration and to help thin out mucus. Contrary to popular opinion, milk has not been proven to increase mucus.
Fever or pain can be controlled using either acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil). Accurate, consistent doses should be given every six hours.
Saline irrigations can help with drippy noses. For infants, use rubber bulb suction with saline nose drops to remove mucus. Older children can use a saline nose spray.
Place a cool-mist humidifier or vaporizer in the child’s room. To prevent contamination, the water should be replaced daily and the machine cleansed regularly according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Keep indoor relative humidity at about 40 to 50 percent.
If a medication such as Tylenol or Advil is given, I do not advise the use of household silverware spoons for dose measurement. Teaspoons found in our kitchens can vary in size and should be used only for eating, not for measuring liquid medication. Proper measuring devices using units of milliliters usually come with the medicine or can be obtained from a pharmacist.
Honey can relieve a cough by increasing saliva, which coats the throat and relieves irritation. Suggested doses are half a teaspoon for children between 1 and 5 years, 1 teaspoon for children 6 through 11 years and 2 teaspoons for children age 12 and older. Do not give honey to a child younger than 1 year of age.
See your health care provider immediately for:
** An infant not yet two months of age with any fever
** A child younger than 2 years with a fever that lasts longer than two to three days
** A child who complains of an earache or a severe sore throat
** A child who has thick green nasal discharge for more than one week
** Mild symptoms that do not improve in 10 to 14 days
** Any child who seems very ill to you